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October 13, 2008 / Toby Dayton

The Funniest Old/New Media Story I’ve Seen All Year

One of the most fascinating aspects of the tectonic transformation taking place in the media landscape are the collisions that occur between new and old media. Those collisions also provide some of the most humorous and entertaining stories in the media world given how frequently traditional media companies (and even new media companies in many cases) so badly misjudge what will happen in the marketplace with new products, services, sites, and technologies. Such was the case recently when CBS released a new iPhone app.

The CBS iPhone app allows users to upload ‘newsworthy’ photos from their iPhone directly into a CBS database that was accessible for anyone to browse from their iPhone. The media behemoth obviously intended to leverage the enormous power of user-generated content, a phenomena that all media companies, new and old, tend to drool over but yet so often mismanage. In almost every case as well, media¬† companies dramatically underestimate how difficult it is to generate. In this case, however, CBS failed to consider that the definition of ‘newsworthy’ might encompass an extremely wide range of perspectives. In fact, the database was very quickly inundated with a massive amount of pornography, and CBS had to shut the service off almost immediately after releasing it.

Apparently, when the service was developed, no one thought that a moderator might be required to filter the images being uploaded into the system. CBS actually claimed that they did have a moderator in place to oversee the content being uploaded but that the system didn’t seem to work the way it was designed. No kidding.

One of the great debates swirling around the increasingly likely death of the daily paper (as well as the decline of traditional journalism in this country, the rise of blogs, and the emergence of citizen journalism), centers around the role that the average citizen will play in determining, reporting, and analyzing what is ‘news.’ It is a fascinating debate with solid arguments all the way around, and one with massive consequences for media, advertising, and even democracy itself. I happen to be a proponent of the side of the argument that sees enormous power, value, and benefit in fostering and enlisting the active engagement of society as a whole in the business of news. Along those lines, I also favor efforts that continue to diminish, in many cases, the hierarchy that still exists today in journalism (though that hierarchy is getting more and more obliterated every day). But clearly, as is the case with most arguments, the answer lies in balancing the two sides of the debate. There will and should always be a critically important role for news media companies to do the valuable work they do, but that work can be greatly enhanced through the active involvement of news consumers. Unfortunately, the CBS iPhone app story demonstrates how hard it is to strike that optimal balance.